High school baseball: Russell County, Columbus High to play in national tournament
By KEVIN PRICE - [email protected]
By KEVIN PRICE Ledger-Enquirer
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Two of the most successful local high school baseball programs will be on a national stage in late March.
Columbus and Russell County have both been invited to play in the first USA Baseball National High School Invitational. The four-day tournament will run March 28-31 at Cary, N.C.
“It is a honor for our program,” Columbus coach Bobby Howard said. “Most of the honor goes to our previous teams, former players and former parents.”
The 16 teams in the field will play in a single-elimination format to decide a champion. However, each team is guaranteed four games, so after a loss teams will drop into a losers bracket.
Of the 16 teams in the field, 12 play for state championships (teams in New York and California do not). Those 12 teams have combined to win 36 state titles.
Columbus has won 11, including back-to-back titles in the past two seasons. Russell County won its Alabama championship in 2005, the same year in which it was named national champion by USA Today.
“We’re thrilled with the quality of teams that we were able to commit to this inaugural event,” USA Baseball Director of Development Rick Riccobono said in a blog on baseballamerica.com. “The talent and history of the participants is truly consistent with the mission of the program: To bring together our nation’s most accomplished high school baseball teams in one championship tournament.”
The tournament will also showcase some of the top individual talent in the nation as well. Of Baseball America’s top 100 players who would be eligible for next June’s Major League Baseball draft, nine will play in the tournament.
“USA Baseball has always wanted more of a connection with that level of baseball,” said Nathan Rode, Baseball America’s assistant editor for high schools. “They have tryouts during the summer for national teams, but they wanted more of a connection with the high school level.”
Columbus, which had to move three games in its schedule to free up time for the tournament, is expected to make a run at its 11th state crown in 2012. The Blue Devils return three players who have already signed with Division I schools. Kyle Carter and J.T. Phillips have signed with Georgia, while Spencer Draws has signed with Air Force.
Russell County is also expected to be a contender for a state championship in 2012. The Warriors went 34-10 last season and advanced to the state semifinals. They will be led by pitchers Ray Castillo, who has signed with Alabama, and Jesse Nelson.
“We were fortunate to have won that national championship,” Russell County coach Tony Rasmus said, “and we have had enough success since then to have our name still known.”
Howard said Columbus will ride a bus to Cary the day before the tournament starts. He said parents raised the money to cover the cost of the trip. He said he did not know the cost of the trip.
Rasmus said the Warriors will fly to the trip with the parents covering the cost of the trip. The Warriors had to cancel a number of games as well as their bi-annual trip to South Florida.
The others teams in the tournament are Parkview (Lilburn, Ga.), Brookwood (Snellville, Ga.). Oxford (Ala.), Sarasota (Fla.), Orange (Calif.) Lutheran, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.), Gulliver Prep (Coral Gables, Fla.), Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas), Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas), George Washington (New York), Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.), Highlands Ranch High School (Highlands Ranch, Colo.) and Lee County (Sanford, N.C.).
Kevin Price, 706-320-4493